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Activists call on mayor to support rent freeze and eviction ban in Sheffield

Members of the ACORN tenants' union say Oliver Coppard promised to publicly support the policies last year, but since then has not done so.

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One in seven private renters in England saw their rent increase during August 2022.

Anton Velchev on Unsplash.

Activists from a local tenants' union have called on South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard to support a nationwide rent freeze and eviction ban in response to the cost-of-living crisis.

ACORN Sheffield say the policy – which would stop private landlords increasing their tenants' rents for a set period of time – would prevent the most vulnerable from falling into poverty or homelessness.

Members of the union are planning to meet Coppard at his office on Friday to present him with a letter asking him to support their campaign. The mayor does not have the power to introduce either policy in South Yorkshire unilaterally, but other Labour mayors including Andy Burnham have called on central government to take action.

ACORN member Millie Bartholomew told Now Then that the group wanted Coppard to support a rent freeze because “costs are skyrocketing while living standards decline, and people are at risk of ill health in mouldy homes that are falling apart.”

“He campaigned on the idea that he understands the issues of working class Sheffielders but has failed to back a call to improve our basic human right to housing,” she said.

According to minutes seen by Now Then and kept by ACORN of a meeting between the union and Coppard in June 2022, the mayor said he was “happy to sign any letters" calling for a rent freeze and an eviction ban.

ACORN had specifically hoped Coppard would sign a public letter coordinated by the London Renters’ Union (LRU) supporting both policies, which has since been signed by Burnham, Sadiq Khan and Liverpool mayor Steve Rotheram.

The letter asks the UK government to follow the lead of the Scottish Government, which put in place a rent freeze and a total ban on evictions in September 2022. This will last until next month, when landlords will be allowed to increase rents by up to 3% until the freeze is lifted entirely in September.

Coppard’s team told Now Then they didn’t have any records of the meeting with ACORN so couldn’t confirm whether he’d said he was happy to sign the letter, and that they hadn't received any requests from the LRU. Coppard told us he was “more than happy to support a call for private landlords to ease the burden on renters” but stopped short of explicitly backing a rent freeze and an eviction ban.

“I know too many people are paying too much rent to live in damp, cramped and unsuitable homes,” he said. “People deserve more than merely a roof over their heads – they need to live in places where they can thrive, and they shouldn’t have to bankrupt themselves just to afford their rent.”

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Members of ACORN Sheffield before a recent action on poor housing standards.

ACORN Sheffield.

Research published by housing charity Shelter in September 2022 found that one in seven private renters in England saw their rent increase in the preceding month, and that one in three are spending at least half their household income on rent. Over the preceding year, almost 200,000 tenants had their rent put up by more than £300 a month.

According to the LRU, rents have risen fastest in Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham and Sheffield, sometimes increasing by as much as 20.5%. But research by the Generation Rent campaign found that only 11% of landlords said they had put up rents as a result of higher mortgage costs (most landlords own their properties outright so have no mortgage costs).

Research by the Office for National Statistics shows that even before the current cost-of-living crisis renters were spending four or five times as much on housing as owner-occupiers. Ryan Dempsey from ACORN Sheffield told Now Then that some of their members have been directly impacted by huge rent rises in recent months.

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Mayor of South Yorkshire Oliver Coppard said that "people deserve more than merely a roof over their heads".

Oliver Coppard.

“One tenant had his rent increased by 14%,” he told us. “This was imposed on him when he has not been able to sleep in his bedroom because the room is so damp – anything he puts in his room gets mouldy. The landlord painted the room only for the mould to reappear within a week. He has to agree to these unsafe conditions because rents are so high he can't afford to move.”

Attempts to regulate Sheffield’s notoriously poor private rented sector have run into obstacles, both in terms of opposition from local landlords and a central government that has made it clear that it doesn’t support serious reform in the sector.

Despite the catastrophic impact dangerous housing can have on tenants’ health, landlords looking to rent out property in the UK do not need to obtain a license or go through the sort of vetting procedure you would need to complete if you wanted to drive a taxi or open a pub.

In 2018, a consultation event run by Sheffield Council on proposals to introduce licensing for properties around London Road – an area with particularly poor housing standards – was called off after landlords violently threatened renters who supported the plans.

"I'm lucky enough to live in a rented house where my landlord hasn't increased my rent over the pandemic, but this shouldn’t be something left to chance,” Minesh Parekh, Labour and Co-operative councillor for Crookes and Crosspool, told Now Then.

"Private housing is a complete wild west in desperate need of regulating; we need a government that will ensure a rent freeze in light of the cost-of-living crisis, and legislate for a complete ban on evictions."

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